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Chimpanzee Facts

Chimpanzees are a species of great ape (within the order Primate), only found in Africa, standing up to 1.7m tall and weighing in at around 50-60kg.

How are chimpanzees classified?

Living things can be organised into different groups.  Species that are alike are grouped together.  This is called classification.

Class:                   Mammals

Order:                   Primates

Family:                  Hominidae (great apes)

Species:                Pan troglodytes (chimpanzee)


Geographic distribution and number

Chimpanzees occur in 23 countries across equatorial Africa, from Senegal in West Africa to Tanzania in East Africa. They are now thought to be extinct in Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin and on the verge of extinction in Senegal and Ghana. Global population estimates range between 170,000 - 300,000 individuals.

Habitat

Chimpanzees live in a mosaic of forest types. They are also adapted to live in very open, dry woodland-savannah habitats such as the Ugalla region of western Tanzania and Mount Assirik, Senegal.

Diet

Their diet is largely composed of fruit but chimpanzees also eat pith, young leaves, shoots, flowers, honey and bark, particularly during periods of fruit scarcity. However, chimpanzees are omnivorous and as such also eat insects and larvae, as well as vertebrate prey such as red colobus. Other species of monkey are also killed and eaten along with duiker and young bushpig and bushbuck.

Ecology and Behaviour

Chimpanzees live in defined ‘communities’. Most, number between 20-60 individuals but larger communities have been documented.  Chimpanzees live in ‘fission-fusion’ societies, in which community members don’t associate all of the time together but form temporary associations with a subset of the community. The membership of these groups is fluid, constantly changing as individuals join and leave and group size is determined by a variety of factors. Generally when food is plentiful, larger groups form. When food is scarce chimpanzees are more likely to range alone or in smaller groups.

Chimpanzees are highly territorial. Groups of males actively patrol their border areas with neighbouring territories, often walking silently and in single file. Encounters with strangers are only initiated when a group has a significant numerical advantage. In such cases, the group may ambush and attack individuals, either seriously injuring or killing them.

Both adult males and females are ordered in a linear dominance hierarchy. The male dominance hierarchy is characterised by frequent displays of aggression. High rank is achieved when a male reaches his prime in his late teens or mid-twenties. The female dominance hierarchy is much more subtle and females tend to increase in rank with age. Both high-ranking males and females are reproductively more successful.

Chimpanzees are active during the day. Although they mainly travel on the ground they are well adapted to feeding in trees as most of their strength is in their upper bodies and arms. Chimpanzees spend about 50% of their time foraging for food. They are also extremely social and bonds between individuals are maintained through grooming and play. Grooming eases tension and is used to reconcile conflicts and console individuals and can also be exchanged for support in agonistic interactions. Rough and tumble play is most common among immature individuals but adults also play together.

Chimpanzees are extremely vocal and have a repertoire of over 30 calls. These include the long-distance pant-hoot, the wraa-bark (an alarm call), ‘barks’ which are threat calls, whimpering, screams, laughter, and lip-smacking during grooming.

Adult females give birth on average every five to six years. Most are single births but occasionally twins are born. Mortality rates are high and the period of dependency is prolonged. Infancy lasts for about five years and the juvenile period until about eight years, during which time the offspring are permanently associating with their mothers and siblings. During adolescence, male offspring in particular, spend increasing periods away from their families in the company of adult males. Females reach maturity at around ten to twelve years and males at about fifteen years. In late adolescence, males experience a growth spurt and increase in muscle mass and achieve dominance over all adult females. Females disperse at sexual maturity into outside communities which prevents in-breeding. Males remain and as a consequence bonds between males are strong.

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